Ham and Dregs

He drinks a DOZEN DIET COKES per day.

He watches at least FOUR HOURS of TELEVISION (and sometimes up to EIGHT HOURS) per day.

He is often surrounded by guests at dinner where everyone consumes STEAKS (well-done) with tons of GRAVY, salad with gobs of BLUE CHEESE dressing topped with BACON crumbles, and MASSIVE slices of CAKE with EXTRA SCOOPS of EXTRA RICH ICE CREAM for dessert.

Melania in the vegetable garden: “He’ll never find me here!!”

He enjoys belittling employees, friends and enemies, particularly in front of others, loves to gossip, and gets moody after a couple of days of “peace.”

No – he’s not a SUPERHERO.

He’s…THE VILLAIN.

You don’t believe me?   Check this out.

It’s sad to learn – from 60 DIFFERENT SOURCES no less, many of who work or worked for him – that a sociopathic toddler daily dirties the rooms where Washington, Lincoln, Kennedy and Obama once stepped.

Talk about bad real estate

Though – full confession — he and I agree on one point. The entire liberal left as well as the vast MAJORITY of the country IS out to get him. We want to get him OUT OF OFFICE before the country crumbles under the weight of his overinflated ego and underinflated supramarginal gyrus.

The latter would be the part of the brain that helps us to distinguish our own emotional state from that of other people and is responsible for empathy and compassion.

Whole studies have been done on this. So perhaps he can finally make himself useful to society in his post-White House years (2018? 2019?) by volunteering his brain for scientific research.

Never gonna happen, Chairy.

Yeah, like that’ll happen. Volunteering, I mean. With nothing in it for him.

Though maybe if Putin orders it so….

Oooooo SHADE

If this sounds like a bit of an irrational rant, well perhaps it is. Rant, I mean. Because it’s certainly not irrational. In fact, reading it over feels incredibly rational. Especially for anyone who has lived in the United States for the past year and endures occasionally watching the news, reading a newspaper or has generally listened in on anyone else’s conversations around lunch or dinnertime.

This weekend my husband and I are finally getting to see Hamilton. This is that musical about one of our greatest unsung Founding Fathers who was never really credited with being a founding father and never became president.

Yet, he fought numerous bloody battles in the Revolutionary War, literally created our financial structures and helped end the international slave trade before dying at age 49.

Not throwing away his shot

No, he didn’t have bone spurs. He was a poor IMMIGRANT whose mother died when he was a child and whose father abandoned him until an older cousin took the poor kid in.

The rest of the story is, as they say, history, if not the type we were all taught in school at least the subject of a 2016 American musical that won the Pulitzer Prize (only one of nine musicals to do so) as well as 11 Tony Awards.

I, for one, would rather have the awards. They’re shinier, no one can take them away and history gets rewritten every few centuries or decades, depending on the era in which one lives.

Get Lin-Manuel’s ready #onlyOscarleft #matteroftime

It’s hard not wonder in which era we all reside. In terms of history, I mean.

Though it’s easy to illustrate we’ve evolved from the time of Hamilton. One doubts he could ever have dreamed a man with no governmental or legal experience – only gobs of money from personal business interests– could assume the presidency when the majority of the country hated him.

#nuffsaid

Certainly, the dentistry is better today. I’ll personally offer myself up as testimony to that. But not to the rest of it.

The burden of proof is on which indeed is more preferable will unfold as the weeks and month trudge on.

Do we choose steak, blue cheese, double ice cream and bacon?

Or do we subsist on something just a little more sensible?

Does googling cute pictures of the Obama family count? #comeback

What history will tell future generations – well, that’s a whole other story – and depends who’s in charge.

But I always check the art of the time if you really want to know the truth. Lord (or whomever you believe Him or Her to be) knows what they’ll find for 2018.

Hamilton — “The Room Where It Happens”

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Hackety Hack

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Yakety, yack. Hackety, hack.

All of Hollywood and then the world were abuzz this week over the massive computer hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment’s email system.

First it was about the idea that anyone could pull off such a massive theft of so protected a system.

Then it morphed into the high-minded conversation of whether it was done by North Korea in retaliation for the upcoming Sony movie, The Interview – a film where two schnooks played by Seth Rogen and James Franco are pressured by the US government to assassinate North Korea president Kim Jong-Un.

Yep... these two geniuses

Yep… these two geniuses

From there it went to just about the only thing that can trump international intrigue in importance – and that would be the bitchy, salacious, gossipy and racially insensitive (Note: The latter are Rev. Al Sharpton’s words, not mine) hacked emails themselves.

Someone actually had the audacity to call unofficial Queen of the World Angelina Jolie nothing more than “a camp event,” “a celebrity” (Note: To be said with a sneer) and “a minimally talented spoiled brat,” only to then refer to her plan to star in a new film version of Cleopatra as “a $180 million ego bath.” You can thank Scott Rudin, currently the most prolific producer in contemporary Hollywood history whose credits include No Country For Old Men, The Social Network and Moneyball, as well as dozens of some of your other favorite major studio films and Broadway megahits, for steering the world toward that which is really important.

I have an EGOT, bitches

I have an EGOT, bitches

Except the spotlight was then quickly taken away by other email musings on the unofficial Most Powerful Man in the World, U.S. Pres. Barack Obama, by Sony Pictures Chair (Note: No relation) Amy Pascal. This was when she complained/wrote to Mr. Rudin at the end of one presumably very long day about having to attend a stupid breakfast (Note: Her words, not mine) honoring/fundraising for the prez, and wondered in printed correspondence to said producer, what to ask him. When Mr. Rudin sarcastically wrote, if he’d like “to finance some movies,” Ms. Pascal quipped back, “Should I ask him if he liked Django (Unchained)? To which Mr. Rudin countered “12 Years (A Slave).” To which Ms. Pascal bested or “The Butler” or “Think Like A Man.” To which Mr. Rudin topped “Ride-Along,” confessing he’d bet that the first Black president (who is, incidentally, equally as much White as he is Black) most assuredly likes Kevin Hart.

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Don’t they know the president has very publicly admitted to being hooked on both House of Cards AND Homeland and that each have very few to no Blacks as regular cast members? Oh right, that’s TV. And not even HBO.

Unfortunately, the public conversation has now moved on to the inevitable public apologies by both the producer and the studio executive, ironically dispersed to press outlets mostly via email, where both producer and studio executive are desperately trying to steer the conversation back to where we started. In case you don’t remember where that is it’s the massive computer hacking of Sony Pictures email system and the crooks that perpetrated the crime. But both being extremely savvy and armed with a bevy of some of the most ingenious publicity consultants money can buy, the producer and studio head, in separate statements, each managed to smuggle in one other culprit — the complicit media who ran with the stolen goods (those pesky emails) and are thus continuing the crime of making these private, written conservations very public.

I mean, just who are the real villains here, anyway, they or we may ask?

It sure as hell ain't me!

It sure as hell ain’t me!

Are you tired yet? Well, perhaps. I know I am. But that’s only because we are once again dealing with complex issues there are no immediate answers for. However, these two grown adults (said prod & exec) acting like petty elementary school kids with the centralized power of high school bullies as they privately take down the more accomplished colleagues that they hate, are annoyed by or are just plain bored with, is something much more understandable. We can all relate to that conversation because we have all either been bullied or have been the bully. Perhaps even both.

I was never good at determining villains because I tend to see the world in insurmountable shades of gray that can never quite be fully deciphered. I mean, even when I rant against people like the Duggars, Sarah Palin and Michael Bay I question for weeks afterwards whether I’m being completely fair or going to hell, though not necessarily in that order and not necessarily both every time.

MjAxMi00NzJjMDAzMmUwZDIzMjdh

So I am going to refrain from judgment and talk about two byproducts of this debacle – the victims and the broader reality.

The victims are not Pres. Obama, Angelina Jolie, said producer, studio head or the myriads of other very well paid, successful people whose privacy and/or dignity has been momentarily taken. They are all smart, resourceful, wealthy and have developed somewhat thickened skins from years in the battle. They can take care of themselves. No, it’s not fair but they’ll be fine. Believe it because it’s true. Really.

The victims are the hundreds of other Sony employees who will no doubt have their identities stolen, will lose their jobs because a corporation has to do something when this happens, have their health records compromised and spend the next number of years living in paranoia every time they correspond with anyone – whether electronically, in person or via any other tablet or instrument of choice. I know this as a victim of identity theft myself for two years running because some hateful cow or sow, buck or f–k (Note: Apologies animals) filed a federal tax return in my name and actually got two different four-figure refunds in my place each year. Trust me, it’s not fun.

1596.strip

Still, there are enough systems in place where these people should all be able to get beyond what’s happened to them and resume some semblance of a new normal life. It sucks the big one and it’s really awful that we live in a world where any one of us at any time can now be virtually violated with little consequence to the perpetrator. But one supposes that is the price we pay for eschewing snail mail for messengers, messengers for email, email for Twitter, Twitter for texts and texts for….microchip implants? I’m surmising, not suggesting. And by the way, I did finally get my tax return after more than a year – each time. I can only hope it takes less than that time for the average lower-mid level laid-off Sony employee to get their next job. But let’s err on the side of optimism. For now

What seems to bother me even more is not the crime – heinous as it is – or the victims of the theft – awful as it is to be a victim. Or even the unfunny racially tinged comments of the producer and studio executive – dumb and small-minded as they were in those moments and even now.

Ugh.. there's more??

Ugh.. there’s more??

Rather, it is the accepted way business is done in the world. The cutthroat, diminishing, low brow fashion so many people exhibit in their industries when they do not get what they want when they want it and the manipulative, back-stabbing, underhanded tactics they will use in the most casual way to sabotage their perceived enemies as all the while they are smiling to their faces, sending them polite, charming and even complimentary communications or merely hiding behind their own work as a way to benignly avoid contact until they pull the big rug out from under those that they choose to engage in the first place.  Perhaps this is human nature. But I don’t think so. And even if it is, we have evolved, if just a little, from the caveman days of hunt or be hunted and fight or flight. Haven’t we? Last I heard there were no Paleolithic nanos or iPods or even iPads. Which reminds me, it was Mr. Rudin’s perception Sony was acing out his upcoming movie about Steve Jobs with intended Cleopatra director and self-professed close friend David Fincher that began the brouhaha here in the first place… but let’s not get off topic.

"Leave me out of this!" says the deity that invented "the cloud"

“Leave me out of this!” says the deity that invented “the cloud”

I’ve spent the majority of my professional life in and around the entertainment industry and I know these hacked emails (Note: See links below for some samplings) typify the best and worst parts of show business. The best being the possibility that people love the piece of entertainment/art you’ve created or hope to create and respect you and your talents so much that they financially and enthusiastically support its coming to life in a way that can be seen by millions of people around the world it will not only please but perhaps influence or change for the better. The worst, however, are the endless and needless betrayals, insults, condescension and out and out lies behind your back or in front of your face by the very people you work with, have dinner with, party with or even do more than that with, who you could have sworn to anyone who will listen are your friends.

There’s an old expression I sometimes evoke to the college juniors and seniors that I try to prepare for the industry each semester and that is that show business is nothing more and nothing less than high school with money. I say sometimes because I’ve sort of put it to bed in the last year or two since after all this time it began to feel, well… tired.  I agree – it’s very tired.   But sadly, that doesn’t make it any less true.

The Valedictorian

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The visual imagery director Mike Nichols brought to The Graduate was so strongly persuasive that for several days after I saw it he had the clearly gay, not yet out, early adolescent me convinced that I could actually be straight. The stocking leg of sleekly sexy Mrs. Robinson beckoning the scared and too internally worried young boy/man – it all worked and made me wonder, “Hmmmm, perhaps there’s a…chance?”

meeeeeowwwww

meeeeeowwwww

I’m not sure whether this was a good or bad thing. But I do know for certain it was as effective as it was unlikely. And any resentment I might have had towards Mr. Nichols for prompting that momentary confusion is forgiven not due to the fact that he died this past week but because it all worked out so gloriously for both of us in the end.

Mr. Nichols died at the age of 83 and accolades have sprung up, as they do, all over the globe for someone who has had such a prodigious career and was, incidentally, also married to one of the most famous newswomen in the world.   It’s also what will inevitably happen when one of a dozen proud earners of the EGOT – Emmy, Grammy, Oscar and Tony awards – passes away. A merely talented person can get fortunate and as a fluke be awarded any one of these in their field in an off year. But all four – and in this case awarded multiple times – it seems like the overused title of “genius” is for once earned.

Make room on the mantle!

Make room on the mantle!

I have many friends who have met, hung out and worked with Mr. Nichols over the years. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to do any of the three. But I feel as if I have because their stories are endless. They alternate between his brilliance as a director, the extreme smarts he brought to everything he touched in work and in life and an unrelenting and often quite scabrous wit. Not to mention his sophistication, occasional superiority, playfulness, penchant for secrets, kindness, generosity and yes – sheer, unadulterated genius.

Ugh, not that word again. Well, as my little sister used to say when that early adolescent me also begged her to let me play with her jacks on the kitchen floor – tough.

To be a recognized genius in show business is no easy feat – mostly because the arts are in the end so utterly subjective.   Still, in Mr. Nichols’ case any rational person measuring “genius” by any rational standard could be overwhelmed by his canon in just film alone. Very few directors make one or two memorable movies in their lives, much less five, six, seven or eight over almost half a century. That might not seem as impressive as I hoped to make it sound – that is until I start listing the films.

How many directors among us, or those aspiring to do anything meaningful in the movies, are capable of making their debut with something on the caliber of Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Think you can? I invite you to Netflix it or rent it or even borrow my copy and then get back to me.

That pretty much sums it  up

That pretty much sums it up

If after watching one of the best movie adaptations of one of the best plays ever written with one of the biggest movie star couples that ever lived, then watch his follow-up film – a little throwaway classic we like to call The Graduate. These two releases in two consecutive years? Are you kidding? Not only will the latter live on as a seminal work in the history of movies, it also happens to be one of the few films that captured the tumultuous themes the 1960s and manages to stay relevant today. Don’t believe me on that either? Sit in on one of my college screenwriting classes, or the film classes of any of my colleagues at pretty much any university across the country and do an informal survey of this younger generation’s view of The Graduate – something I have done on and off for more than a decade.   Not a negative word about a movie that was shot nearly five decades ago (Note: Rare in itself) – a time not long after most of their parents were born.

Where do you even begin?

Where do you even begin?

Then there were other classics like Carnal Knowledge, Working Girl, Postcards from the Edge (Note: One of the truest and funniest movies about show business that I’ve ever seen) and Primary Colors. Not to mention the brilliant and seemingly inadaptable epic play Angels in America as a multi-part HBO movie. Which begs the question of Silkwood and Heartburn – about as different as two films can get but both equally affecting and chilling in very different ways. There’s no time to get into those or any others of the above or we’ll be here all night. Better to spend your time watching or re-watching any of them instead of spending one more second reading any more of what I or anybody else chooses to write about them.

We could stop there but we haven’t gotten to the theatre. I’ll try to make this brief but what do you say about an eight time Tony Award winner who directed so many of Neil Simon’s most seminal and successful early Broadway comedies – including Barefoot in the Park, The Odd Couple and Plaza Suite – only to produce the megahit musical Annie a decade later, follow it up by directing the even meggier hit musical Spamalot thirty years after that, only to follow that by winning a Tony Award less than a decade later for directing the late Phillip Seymour Hoffman in a much-acclaimed revival of Arthur Miller’s classic American play Death of a Salesman?

And he looked so freakin' cool doing it

Right at home

Had enough yet? It might surprise young people to know that Mr. Nichols began his career as a performer. Along with his friend and frequent collaborator over the years – Elaine May – he was one half of one of the most successful comic duos of the 1950s and 60s – Nichols and May. They played clubs around the world, guested all over television and sold millions of records – earning him his first “G” in the EGOT – the Grammy award.

The dynamic duo

The dynamic duo

For those who believe to be a brilliant director or artist of any kind means that one must create a very specific and very individual style that permeates their entire output, it is particularly interesting to note that as a filmmaker, man of the theatre, and performer Mike Nichols had no such signature or even strategy. Of all the many thoughtful quotes I’ve read and heard from him since his death the one that stayed with me is probably the simplest. When asked about how he directs scenes in comedy vs. drama he noted that all he really tries to do is figure out “what’s really going on” between the people. That search for “the truth” among human beings could be why he so easily cuts across so many genres and styles. On the other hand, it could just be that he was smarter and more perceptive than the rest of us.

Of course, EGOTS – or in layman terms: little statuettes voted to you by your peers – don’t account for or even prove genius beyond a shadow of a doubt. Still, it’s one of the only measures we have for the immeasurable. But if you still don’t buy that reflect on what Mr. Nichols has left behind in the aftermath of his death. No, I’m not talking about the massive tributes throughout the world from all of the top people across the board in the entertainment industry. Consider the work.

Oh.. and he was besties with Meryl Streep.

Oh.. and plus he was besties with Meryl Streep.

One final note: Mike Nichols was an immigrant.   He was born in Berlin with the name Mikhail Igor Peschkowsky and arrived in the U.S when he was seven years old with his family in order to escape the Nazi regime. He recalled that at the time he could only speak two phrases in English. One was: I do not speak English and the other was: Please don’t kiss me.

Clearly he was a dreamer to have achieved as much as he did.  So perhaps it stands to reason we give a few others the chance to follow in his footsteps and at least attempt to begin to fill the void. I think he’d approve. Though certainly he would say it more elegantly and with a dash more humor. Which sort of proves my point.

To Jennifer, with love

How do you solve a problem like Jennifer?

Here’s the punch line to an old show business joke:   “…Because I needed a new bathroom.” Many of today’s movie stars, whether they know it or not, are now the unwitting deliverers of that sadly funny but telling line.  The first part of the joke is: “What would have ever possessed you to take that role.” (For writers or directors you can substitute, film, script or assignment for the word “role”).

I don’t mean to pick on movie stars specifically but to make the argument you have to cite some group and, well, movie stars are as good an example as any of those who choose to sell out their ample talent to the highest (or just high) bidder.  And frankly — they’re rich, famous, privileged, and awfully good looking (most of them) so I feel they can take it.

Actors talk all the time about there not being enough good parts (for movie studios substitute good enough scripts, for directors substitute cool or meaty projects).  But here’s the truth – really desirable parts get created from directors, writers and yes, producers and studio executives, who are trying, working hard, going out on a limb, and exploring new and dangerous territory.  Or just being clever and true to themselves in a way that hasn’t been quite been done before because they’re tapping into something that’s uniquely them.

To whit:  Jennifer Anniston CAN act – quite well – and even in something more than light comedy — watch Mike White’s “The Good Girl.”  She’s also lovely in many of her rom coms.  She has enough friends (and that also includes her work on “Friends,” the great TV show that still holds up) and money to finance any movie she wants ENTIRELY for, let’s say, under $5 million and not get too hurt.  Hell, she just sold her house in Beverly Hills for $42,000,000 (well, that was the asking price) and made a tidy profit for quite a bit more than that.   But she doesn’t choose to.  Nor do most others. (For further examples of others, substitute the name of, oh, Johnny Depp).

I like Ms. Aniston professionally and several friends of mine who have spent time with her personally like her quite a bit too.  She’s nice.  She’s down to earth.  She’s a lot of fun, they say.  So why do she and handfuls of other film stars not choose to take matters into their own hands and make/finance lower budget movies on their own at a price.  And do the schlock only when they really need a new bathroom? (But really, how many bathrooms does one realistically need anyway?).

George Clooney does this to some extent and Ms. Aniston did do this to some extent when she had a company with ex-husband Brad Pitt, which he now has and which enables him to still do it, to some extent.  But that isn’t the norm these days.  Well, maybe she doesn’t have the time or interest? It does take some effort.  But so does walking across the room to change the channel if your remote isn’t handy.  (And that’s assuming you don’t have someone in your house or an employee that can get up for you, which I’m thinking she may have).  Yet if she and others don’t do something (because money is power right now) the upshot for actors (or writers, directors, etc) and their audiences, at least, is going from meaningless film to meaningless film, polluting the waters for anything slightly better than what comes along.  Yes, I’m talking to you “Horrible Bosses,” “Green Lantern,” and “Hangover II” (if you don’t like these choices you can substitute – well, I’m sure you can think of two or three).

United Artists (the film company founded in the twenties by disgruntled film artists Douglas Fairbanks, Mary Pickford, Charlie Chaplain and DW Griffith)   – –  Even First Artists (the film company founded in the 1970s by Barbra Streisand, Sidney Poitier, Paul Newman and Steve McQueen)  — Save us!  We’re dying creatively out here.  Television is thriving creatively mostly because of cable programming and its influence on the networks to push the envelope (though for every “Mad Men” there are 10 “Kardashians,” but I digress). It’s also serialized.  For those of us who love our stories in one larger sitting, is there no hope at all? I don’t get it.  Have the modes of entertainment changed that much.  Or is it only about getting rich in the shortest possible manner?

Where are you??

If the rich and successful ARE the job creators (duh), uh, Hollywood’s wealthy – where are you?  Are you only interested in creating crappy jobs?  Does that hold for every industry across the country?  Is that why we’re in the pickle we’re in?  Did all the good jobs (and movie projects?) go overseas?  Are we outsourcing ourselves, literally, into creative irrelevance, at least movie wise? (Duh and double duh).

This is certainly not limited to mainstream Hollywood.  Two feature length independent films I saw last weekend at Outfest, the LA gay and lesbian film festival, are not any not better, and in one instance much worse, than any of the movies previously mentioned.  That one in question was, in fact, so hideous, so absolutely without any wit or substance that it was actually embarrassing to watch.  Not so for the director, who proudly hawked DVD’s of his previous films prior to this screening, much to the delight of a packed crowd at 10pm on a Sat night (which, it should be noted, is really the shank of the evening in gay time).  Maybe that’s what it takes nowadays – absolute nerve and hype that whatever product you’re pedaling is the coolest thing in the world.  Perhaps in this case, indie and mainstream moviemaking are more alike and have always been more alike than I want to believe.  I might take a moment to sob just about now.

That's showbiz, kid

But just as I’m ready to give up I read that Glenn Close has a movie being released at the end of the year called “Albert Nobbs,” where she plays a woman who poses as a male butler in 1890s Ireland that is said to likely be one of this year’s top Oscar picks.  I also read that Ms Close has been pushing to get it made as a film since she played it off-Broadway nearly 30 years ago.  Kudos to her.  But thirty years???  Well, okay.

Working on her EGOT

And then there was the really interesting independent movie “Weekend” that I saw last night at Outfest by young British filmmaker Andrew Haigh that very much evoked the imaginative rawly emotional work of the young John Cassavettes.  That was really promising and very bold and daring.  So there is that.  Not to mention the idea for a new script I thought of on my own a few nights ago that I’m just starting to take notes on and will continue researching and outlining this weekend.  I’m starting to get excited to explore this new world and see what I can get down on paper.  Perhaps I’ll even manage a little self-discovery in the process.

Hmm., who needs new bathrooms when we have all of that?